What to Wear to a Broadway Show

people in line for a Broadway show wearing jackets

Whether you’re a tourist or a native New Yorker, figuring out what to wear to a Broadway show is part of the fun. The good news? You can dress to impress or keep it casual; anything goes. 

Here at Theater Love, we love getting dressed up for Broadway (and theater in general). And after these past few years, it feels even more special to see a musical or play. That said, don’t worry if fashion isn’t your thing — wear something you feel good about, and focus on enjoying the show!

Top image courtesy of Jim Griffin (public domain)

What to Wear to a Broadway Show: There Are No Rules

These days, you can wear whatever you want to a Broadway show. Dressing up is a nice way to turn a night at the theater into a special occasion, but you should never let your outfit selection take away from the experience. The average Broadway audience includes people in jeans, yoga pants, suits, and cocktail dresses.

There are two schools of thought when choosing what to wear to Broadway:

  1. Dressing up is a must; it shows respect for the theater, the actors, and the experience
  2. Your clothing doesn’t matter — people are there to see the actors, not you.

Both perspectives are valid; you simply need to decide which one works for you. In general, the majority of people will feel the most confident and comfortable when they make an effort to dress nicely for a Broadway show.

Are you curious about what people actually wear to shows on Broadway? The photo below was taken at a Saturday evening performance The Music Man in February of 2022. As you can see, most people are dressed fairly casually. (Really, everyone was there to see Hugh and Sutton, so no one was thinking about clothes.)

people in a Broadway theater

Broadway Show Dress Code

There is no official dress code for Broadway shows, but most audience members make an effort to look presentable and pulled-together. As a rule of thumb, choose something you’d wear to a cocktail party or an elegant restaurant. (You’ll probably go out for dinner or drinks before or after the show, so this is a great way to cover all bases.)

Broadway theaters do not have dress codes. Only a few theaters even bother to mention a Broadway dress code. We think the Met sums it up perfectly:

“There is no dress code at the Met, but a night at the opera can be a great excuse to get dressed up.”

The Metropolitan Opera

How to Dress for a Broadway Show: Ideas for Broadway Outfits

So. We’ve established that 1) there is no official Broadway dress code and 2) you’ll probably feel better if you’re dressed up. But what does that mean in reality? What do you wear to a Broadway show?

man and woman in proper Broadway attire
Image courtesy Walt Disney Television under CC BY-ND 2.0
woman and man at a Broadway premiere
Image courtesy Walt Disney Television under CC BY-ND 2.0

Broadway show outfit ideas:

  • Crisp jeans paired with nice shoes and a sweater, dressy blouse, or button-up shirt
  • Skirt and a nice top
  • Dress pants and a nice top
  • Slacks and a blazer
  • Cocktail dress and heels
  • Fitted suit

As you’re choosing what to wear to a Broadway show, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Avoid clothing that tends to wrinkle
  2. Stay away from anything that’s too tight or short to sit in comfortably
  3. Choose items that are clean and free of stains or rips
  4. When in doubt, avoid athletic shoes, flip-flops, and sport sandals

What Is the Proper Attire for a Broadway Show?

Business casual or smart casual clothing is always considered proper Broadway show attire. It’s a surefire way to ensure that you’ll look appropriate, whether you’re attending a matinee, an evening performance, or opening night. (Not sure what business casual is? Mr. Porter and Miss Louie offer good introductions.)

Are you cringing at the idea of bringing business to Broadway? Don’t worry — that’s just one option for Broadway attire. Theater is all about creativity and emotional expression, so you should feel free to do what feels right for you.

Have more questions about proper Broaway attire? We thought you might! Read on, friends:

Should you dress up for Broadway shows?

people dressed up for Broadway
Image courtesy of Florida Grand Opera under CC BY 2.0 (cropped)

You can dress up for a Broadway show if you like, but it’s completely optional (except on opening night; see below). Since New York theaters get such a high volume of tourists, people wear everything from cocktail dresses to shorts to Broadway theaters.

That said, definitely dress up if it sounds like fun. It’s so much fun to walk into the lobby of the Lincoln Center or the Lyric Theatre feeling fabulous. It makes an already-special experience even more exciting. If you happen to be going to the Met, you might even be featured on the theater’s Last Night at the Met fashion-focused Instagram account.

There’s one situation where you absolutely should dress up for a Broadway show: opening night. These special performances have a festive, formal atmosphere (and probably more than a few celebrities) — you’ll feel completely out of place in a super-casual outfit. You don’t have to wear a tuxedo or an evening gown; just dress nicely. A suit or a cocktail dress is perfect for opening night on Broadway. Need ideas? Watch the beginning of this video to see what people are wearing to the My Fair Lady opening night in New York:

Can you wear jeans to a Broadway show?

Absolutely! Lots of New York City theatergoers wear jeans to Broadway shows. If you want to feel a bit more pulled together, choose well-fitting jeans in a dark color; they’re more stylish and elegant than baggy, ripped jeans. Pair them with a nice pair of dressy shoes and a nice top, and you look perfectly appropriate for Boadway. Avoid jeans that are extremely tight; you’ll regret them about 90 minutes into the show!

What to Wear to a Broadway Musical vs. a Play

It doesn’t matter whether you’re going to a Broadway musical or a play — if you look clean and pulled-together, you’re good to go. That said, Broadway plays like American Buffalo tend to attract a more literary  audience than, say, a musical like The Lion King. No judgement — it just means that the audiences at plays tend to dress in a more pared-down, sophisticated way. (Though of course, you’ll still see leggings and running shoes at both.) 

What to Wear to Hamilton on Broadway

If you’re going to Hamilton on Broadway, wear an outfit that suits the tone of the musical: elevated and edgy. Don’t bother with evening dresses and suits; Hamilton audiences tend to be more relaxed and contemporary. Think jeans and blazers, dresses with Chelsea boots, etc. Choose clothing that makes you feel amazing — you’ll be glad you did when it’s time to Instagram that selfie with the iconic star marquee.

Image courtesy of Montclair Film under CC BY 2.0
Image via Florida Grand Opera under CC BY 2.0 (cropped)

It bears repeating: any time you’re deciding what to wear to the theater in NYC, anything goes. If you have a gorgeous satin cocktail dress you’re dying to wear, do it! You’ll feel amazing, and no one will even blink an eye. This is New York, after all. 

What to Wear to a Broadway Matinee

When you’re deciding what to wear to a Broadway matinee show, keep one thing in mind: afternoon performances tend to be more relaxed. We’ll call it “Broadway casual” — nice and pulled-together, but not fancy. In the summer, you’ll see lots of sundresses, sandals, and khaki shorts. In the winter, people often wear sweaters with jeans and nice boots.

As you’re picking out an outfit that works with the Broadway casual dress code, ask yourself this question: would I feel comfortable going to lunch at a nice restaurant in these clothes? If the answer is yes, you’re good to go!

What do New Yorkers wear to Broadway?

New Yorkers tend to wear clothes that are fashionable yet comfortable when they go to Broadway performances. You’ll see native New Yorkers in everything from ultra-trendy outfits to classic, elegant evening wear. Men usually don’t wear ties, unless it’s a bowtie or there’s a formal opening-night event. Women wear everything from jeans and heels to dresses. 

There are some things New Yorkers rarely (if ever) wear to Broadway:

  • Flip flops
  • Logo t-shirts
  • Cargo shorts

If figuring out what to wear to Broadway is more stressful than exciting, we’re here to reassure you — you won’t remember what you wore! You’ll remember the amazing music and the world-class talent. Most importantly, you’ll remember the sheer joy of being together in a room with hundreds of other people with one goal: loving theater.